It’s an odd feeling to be accumulating money for the first time in my life.

When I was young, my family didn’t have much money. Any money I earned, I spent. This was a learned behavior. I was imitating my parents. After college, I allowed myself to be trapped in a life of credit hell. About five years ago I began to wean myself from credit. And in December 2004, I began the process of digging myself out of the hole.

I sat down one evening, made a list of all my debts, and stared at the numbers. They were intimidating. I had a car loan, a home equity loan (which I had used to consolidate my credit card debt), a computer loan, and two small personal loans. I had about $30,000 in debt. I knew that I ought to pay the home equity loan first because it had the highest interest rate, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt like I’d be paying on it for an eternity.

I had just received my Christmas bonus, and it was enough to pay off one of the personal loans and most of the computer loan. So, I wrote checks for these and mailed them. I felt guilty not having paid on my home equity loan. But when my bills arrived in early January, it was a relief to have one less debt, and to have the computer nearly paid off. “In fact,” I thought, “if I scrounge, I can actually pay off the computer loan now.” And so I did.

Within a few months, I had scraped together enough money to pay off everything but the home equity loan. It was amazing! I felt like a burden had been lifted. But I was still over $20,000 in debt, and the monthly interest was killing me.

For the past eighteen months, I’ve been plugging away at the home equity loan. I now owe $18,676.96. I’ve been gradually accelerating payments on it. With the end of the year approaching — and the all-important holiday bonus — I spent some time drawing up a repayment plan. My plan is aggressive, but not impossible. I want to be completely debt free — except for the mortgage — by the time I turn 39, at the end of March 2008.

It’s exciting to see this goal on paper, and to realize it’s within my grasp.

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Meanwhile, I’ve begun to accumulate small pools of money here and there. I have a fine retirement plan through my day job, but I also started a personal Roth IRA through Sharebuilder last January. (I’m putting money into it when I can, but I won’t max it out until after I’ve repaid my home equity loan.) I have two savings accounts that are beginning to accumulate cash. These are the first savings accounts I’ve ever had. Ever. I also have an emergency fund with my wife. (We keep separate finances — that’s a subject for another entry.)

My checkbook is most impressive of all. I’m not running a zero balance. I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck. I’m not toying with overdrafts every pay period. No — I’m carrying several hundred dollars in my checking account at all times.

But I still feel the urge to spend.

Though I’ve budgeted to use my Christmas bonus to pay down the home equity loan, I have visions of the shiny new toys this money cold buy: a new bicycle, more comic books, a fancy leather easy chair. In the past, I would have succumbed to these urges, prolonging my debt repayment. This year, I believe I have the fortitude to stick to my plan. If mid-January rolls and I’ve managed to use the money wisely, I’ll be very happy.

I’ll be happier still when I’m debt-free in March 2008.

This article is about Debt, Planning, Real-Life